Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Writers say the darndest things.

I think I did pretty well, considering I started out with nothing but a bunch of blank paper.--Steve Martin

Writing a book is a adventure. To begin with it is a toy and amusement. Then it becomes a mistress, then it becomes a master, then it becomes a tyrant. The last phase is that just as you are about to be reconciled to your servitude, you kill the monster and fling him out to the public.--Winston Churchill

Some editors are failed writers, but so are most writers.--T. S. Eliot

When a book, any sort of book, reaches a certain intensity of artistic performance it becomes literature. That intensity may be a matter of style, situation, character, emotional tone, or idea, or half a dozen other things. It may also be a perfection of control over the movement of a story similar to the control a great pitcher has over a ball.--Raymond Chandler

No iron can pierce the heart with such force as a period put just at the right place.--Isaac Babel 

A tired exclamation mark is a question mark.--Stanislaw Jerzy Lec

Any word you have to hunt for in a thesaurus is the wrong word. There are no exceptions to this rule.--Stephen King

I'm all in favor of keeping dangerous weapons out of the hands of fools. Let's start with typewriters.--Solomon Short

In a thousand words I can have the Lord's Prayer, the 23rd Psalm, the Hippocratic Oath, a sonnet by Shakespeare, the Preamble to the Constitution, Lincoln's Gettysburg Address and almost all of the Boy Scout Oath. Now exactly what picture were you planning to trade for all that?--Roy H. Williams

Success comes to a writer, as a rule, so gradually that it is always something of a shock to him to look back and realize the heights to which he has climbed.--P. G. Wodehouse

A writer should have another lifetime to see if he's appreciated.--Jorge Luis Borges

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Did pirates say “Arrrr, Matey?”

Robert Newton
Writing good dialog is hard. It’s especially hard for historical fiction. How did people talk in some long ago period? A writer can get a hint from historical writing, but only a hint. Peopleat least prior to email and textingwrote in a much more formal style than they spoke. As recently as twenty years ago, people wrote striving for grammatical correctness and they generally shunned slang they might use verbally.

Another challenge is to make every character sound different. Beyond personality differences; women, men, and children don’t talk the same. If every character speaks similarly, dialogue becomes akin to a vegan gluten-free green smoothieboring in large doses.

The best way to give each character a distinct voice is to have a firm grasp of the character’s personality. Really know your characters. Allow them to speak for themselves … and if they happen to say something out of character, erase it.

The top goal of fiction writing is to move the story forward. This means dialogue should not interrupt the forward progress of a story. This argues for not going overboard on regional or historical accents. A reader should never stop to sound out some unusual speech pattern in order to figure out what the character said. For the most part, it’s better to offer hints of a bygone era rather than attempt to replicate it accurately. A light touch is almost always best. One of the great historical novels is Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett. Read the book again for the language. You might be surprised. For the most part, it is written in modern English.

Oh, one more thing. In the early 1950s, Disney produced Treasure Island and Blackbeard the Pirate, with Robert Newton playing the lead role in both films. Newton also played Long John Silver in the TV series. In his portrayals, Robert Newton invented what became an iconic pirate dialect, including, “Arrrr, matey.” Was it accurate? Who knows, but it was entertaining … and understandable.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Single-Tasking—The Ultimate Luxury

An article in the Wall Street Journal got me thinking. Single-tasking has become a luxury. L. Gordon Crovitz's article is titled “How the Internet saved the Novel.” He writes, “Engaging with a novel … requires rare focus in our information-snacking lives.”  Crovitz concludes with, “The more time people spend tracking fleeting pixels on digital screens, the more they seem to yearn for something else. The well-crafted novel is more alive than ever.”

In this multi-tasking world, nothing can be more relaxing than having only one thing on your mind. Getting lost in a really good story does the trick. Sit down and single thread a novel for a quick break from the travails of everyday life. You can do it anywhere, any time, and for as long as the world allows. You will be instantly transported to another place, another time, and another set of lives. What could be better than that?

What would be better would be reading a great novel in the perfect place. Like Lake Powell, for instance. With more coastline than the state of California, you can always find a private nook with nobody around and stone cliffs make cell and radio communication impossible. Good novels, water toys, and Lake Powell. The ultimate modern day vacation. Relax. No one can get in touch with you, no can interrupt your reading, and no one can demand that you do three things at once. Unless you bring the kids, but that’s another story.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

A Rude Awakening

In the olden days—like maybe four years ago—Kindle and Nook readers were fairly tolerant of formatting errors. The technology was brand spanking new and early adopters always accept a few lumps with hot innovations. Times have changed. The cost of eReaders have collapsed and, in many categories, ebooks outsell the old fashioned print variety. Readers have also become more demanding. They want their ebooks professionally formatted so they're never distracted from the story or subject matter.

For the most part, I write novels. My latest book, Principled Action, Lessons from the Origins of the American Republic, was non-fiction. Since it had a table of contents, index, footnotes, illustrations, and section headings, I had it professionally formatted for every eReader on the market.

I thought my novels were different. They were narratives with only chapter breaks to interrupt the flow of words. In fact, I had sold tens of thousands with nary a complaint. Occasionally, I would do an update when I became aware of an indentation problem or a stray character that defied interpretation, but these were rare.

Then I got an email note from Amazon saying a reader had complained that one of my novels did not include a Table of Contents. Amazon concurred and suggested I add one. At first I thought this was odd. I don't have chapter titles, so the TOC would merely be a numerical list. Granted, it could be  navigation tool, but would it really be that helpful in a straightforward novel? Then I checked the five novels I had backlogged to read on my own Kindle. Each had a table of contents and most were only a numerical list. Darn. Times had changed and I hadn't kept up. What else was I missing. Were there other glitches that would jerk my readers out of the story and back to reality?

Since I was busy getting Steve Dancy out of trouble once again, I didn't want to invest the time to insure that my six Kindle books were completely up to snuff. My solution was to go back to my non-fiction book formatter. I used "eB Format" and like the first time, my experience was excellent. The job was done with an expertise that would have taken me at least weeks to learn, and they were reasonably priced and quick. If you have ebooks that need added features or need a thorough scrubbing for format glitches, I highly recommend eB Format. Click on their logo if you would like to visit their site.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Buzz Feed' s Collection of 30 Writing Tips

This is a fun posting on Buzz Feed. Some very good advice, as well. 

Before you become too enamored with other authors' perspective on the craft, I'd like to add this piece of advice from Raymond Chandler: "Everything a writer learns about the art or craft of fiction takes just a little away from his need or desire to write at all. In the end he knows all the tricks and has nothing to say."

Link to Article